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Study: Number of Jobs Requiring Computer Use Rose Dramatically Since 2002

By:
Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Dec 1, 2017
Robots

A recent study from the Brookings Institution has found that the number of jobs requiring a medium to high degree of digital knowledge has drastically increased since 2002, while the number of jobs where little to no computer knowledge is needed has plummeted. This comes from an analysis of 545 different occupations covering 90 percent of the U.S. workforce in all industries since the turn of the century. 

"Nurses work like scientists, using portable vein finders for blood tests, while auto mechanics employ laptops to troubleshoot cars, and salespeople rely on cloud-based, artificially intelligent software agents like Siri and Alexa to schedule meetings," said the report. 

Researchers measured digitization by looking at the Occupation Information Network (O*NET) database, a Dept. of Labor-maintained service that surveys incumbent workers in every occupation on things like education levels, training, experience and skill-related work environments, and combined this with information from the historical Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for data on employment and wages, and the Current Population Survey for data on demographic variation. Using this data, the researchers then sorted each profession into those that required a high amount of digital skill (like software engineers or financial managers), medium amounts (like lawyers and office clerks) or low amounts (like security guards and cooks). 

What they found was that, between 2002 and 2016, the number of jobs requiring a high degree of digital skills increased from 6 million to 32 million, the number requiring a medium amount increased from 49 million to 66 million, and those that need little to no digital skills decreased from 69 million to 41 million. At this point, jobs that need at least some technical proficiency are now the solid majority, whereas before they were a little less than half. Such jobs also make up the majority of new jobs created since 2010, with 3.9 million needing high technical skills and 4.2 million needing medium (4.9 million new jobs were deemed as low-digitization). 

The report, however, noted that while these numbers are impressive, they are not evenly distributed across all professions. Many already-technical professions become even more technical: for instance, electronics engineers needing high degrees of digital skills increased from 69 percent to 90 percent. Further, many mid-range jobs became highly digital, such as chemical engineers (47 to 69 percent) and financial managers (41 to 61 percent). However even when jobs remained moderate in terms of their technical requirements, there were still some dramatic jumps. Automotive service technician jobs needing at least moderate digital skills increased from 39 to 55 percent, very similar to registered nurses, who rose from 38 to 55 percent. Other professions, though, had a less drastic spike. Secretaries went from 45 to 59 percent, elementary school teachers went from 45 to 58 percent and computer-controlled machine tool operators went from 40 to 56 percent. 

But even jobs that today don't need a lot of technical skills still require more than they did in 2002. Home health aides, for example, rose from 3 to 23 percent, the same proportions as welders. Heavy truck drivers, meanwhile, increased from 7 to 30 percent. 

"How do these changes tie into industry trends? Add them up, and the ongoing digitalization of hundreds of occupations reflects the fact that the entire U.S. economy is digitizing rapidly but unevenly, with much variation in the extent and pace of digitalization across industries," said the report.